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LANGUAGE ARTS
live in the stacks at the Toronto Public Library

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Fri. Nov 14 at 8pm
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Last Month's Top Sellers

1. JENNIFER CASTLE - Pink City
2. BAHAMAS - Is Afie
3. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS - Brill Bruisers
4. DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 - The Physical World
5. ALVVAYS - S/T

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FEATURED RELEASES

Wednesday
Oct292014

BUDOS BAND - Burnt Offering

The Budos Band have consistently produced retro grooves that could have been written in an earlier era (namely, that of the '60s/'70s). On this new outing, they let their hair grow out by adding some heavy fuzz to the mix. Like The Chamber Brothers said, my soul has been psychedelicized!

"Don't let that album cover and title fool you. The level of departure here is so slight that the boys could've gone ahead and just slapped a roman numeral four on there. The Budos Band's approach to instrumental funk/soul has always had a touch of the ominous. They reclaim the original grandeur of Beethoven's Fifth while fitting into the fun and frivolity of how the symphony has been fetishized over time. It's music for dancing, to be sure, but it contains a mood that sort of hovers over the revelry. It's looking down on itself from a great height. It isn't imbued with judgement, necessarily, but a grave sort of knowingness. It feels good in the crowd, bathed in darkness and strange lights. But something is moving us, and we are a little bit scared of the possession. Most dance music uses this feeling as a segue to release; Budos Band just lays in the pocket and glowers with a fierce but composed solemnity." - Tiny Mix Tapes

Monday
Oct272014

LAST EX - S/T

Exquisitely recorded and arranged in a manner that can't help but bring to mind the contemporary production work of Geoff Barrow for Portishead, Beak> and Anika, Timber Timbre members Olivier Fairfield and Simon Trottier deliver a groovily sustained, classily motorik mood melding occasionally queasy dissonance and electronic/tape treatments with easy-on-the-ears orchestration on this debut album. 

"Constellation stalwarts Do Make Say Think and Exhaust are reference points, but it's the redesigned krautrock of Tortoise that is most suitably comparable to Last Ex’s approach here. Groove, minimalism and disorder all have their place on this album. Occasional tracks, such as 'Girl Seizure' and 'Cape Fear' make obvious the project's roots in soundtracking but then there’s the almost danceable opener 'Hotel Blues' and the Third-era Portishead art rock of 'Resurrection Drive I' to contend with." - Drowned In Sound

Monday
Oct272014

TAPE - Casino

Another round of drifting beauty from the stalwart Häpna trio, with the airy, gently picked/keyed refrains this time out catching this writer's ear more than their last effort, 2011's Revelationes, hewing (slightly) closer to the feel of '08's Luminarium

"Tape have been distilling minimalism, experimentalism and pure pop into inimitably ravishing music for fourteen years now. This, their sixth album, is their most luminous to date. The group’s sound has evolved over the years, but its subtlety in artfully blending acoustic and electronic inputs is a constant...Having reverted to an absence of percussion for Casino, the trio’s multi-instrumental approach is further pared to a simple palette of analogue electronics plus guitar and/or piano and electric keys. Each of the album’s seven tracks lasts an even six or seven minutes, and each is gently insistent and acutely melodic; each an instant hit of pure aural pleasure." - Dalston Sound

Monday
Oct272014

VA - Arkansas At 78rpm: Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers

Dust-to-Digital seem to have kept quiet on the release front this year (compared to the bounty of reissues and archival releases they've graced us with in the recent past), so we were especially glad to see this set of digitized rare/regional '30s 78s come in!

"Produced by April and Lance Ledbetter utilizing transfers from the Music Memory archive, Arkansas at 78rpm features original recordings made between 1928-1937. The CD and the 32-page booklet serve as a companion album to the newly-released photograph book, Making Pictures: Three for a Dime by Maxine Payne. All of the photos in this package are from the same cache of photographs taken by the Massengil family in their mobile photo-booth trailer throughout rural Arkansas in the 1930s-1940s." - Dust-to-Digital

Friday
Oct172014

KEVIN MORBY - Still Life

As the full title/cover of this sophomore album suggests, Kevin Morby's songwriting keeps the playfully serious tone set on Harlem River (a 2013 staff fave here), thriving on collaboration while also seemingly needing the necessary time alone to recharge and rebuild. Having recently parted ways with Woods and moved to L.A., Still Life finds Morby managing to successfully echo the work of peers and elders (Kurt Vile, Cass McCombs, even Bill Fay in the way each vocal line lilts up on closer "Our Moon") while starting to come into his own and stand out as a bandleader/solo artist.

"[Still Life] reflects both time in transit and the quiet confines of his new home in Montecito Heights. Scenes of performers, audience expectations and the paradoxical confines of a roving individual perpetually caught in a crowd percolate the songs, notably in 'The Jester, The Tramp, The Acrobat,' and 'Parade.' (Morby calls the latter an elegy of sorts for one of his major influences, Lou Reed). Violent fates, wrestling with destiny and the nature of death creep into songs like 'The Ballad of Arlo Jones,' 'Bloodsucker' and 'Amen.' Even Morby's more obvious love songs like 'All of My Life,' 'Drowning' and “Our Moon” are highly bittersweet; the characters in these songs seem to never quite find each other, but perhaps they find themselves.

As with Harlem River, Still Life is once again produced by Rob Barbato (Cass McCombs, Darker My Love), who adds his signature guitar and bass playing to the album. The album was engineered and mixed by Drew Fischer, who worked on Harlem River as well as The Babies' second full length album Our House on the Hill,  and was recorded between March and June of 2014 at Barbato and Fischer's new Burbank recording studio, Comp'ny. Morby is also once again joined by Justin Sullivan (The Babies) on drums and percussion." - Woodsist

Friday
Oct172014

JOHN SOUTHWORTH - Niagara

With co-producer (and recent Polaris Prize winner for his work with Tanya Tagaq and Jesse Zubot as the core trio behind Tagaq's Animism) Jean Martin once again helping at the helm, anyone already entranced by Southworth and ace backing band The South Seas' 2010 effort Human Cry now has twice the adventurous performances and ambitious songcraft to enjoy with this double-disc tribute to the two halves, towns, and states of nation-mind that are/is Niagara Falls, ON/NY.

"Southworth's best songs tend to be evocative, romantic and whimsical, and there are a number of knockouts here: the euphoric build and release of 'Ode To The Morning Sky'; the slow, dull, spiritual thud of Andrew Downing's acoustic bass on 'Folk Art Cathedral'; the mystical, infinite yet minute lullaby that is 'Irish Tree Alphabet' and Felicity Williams' breathy, Wurlitzer-chased lift-off at the end of closer 'Loving You. But there's also variety: 'Hey I've Got News For You' is assertively American; the melody on 'Womb Of Time' sounds like it's lifted from the American Songbook with Southworth sounding exhausted (but not in a bad way); and there's a Waits-ian groove on 'Halloween Election.' It's dreamy eccentricity: a little crazy and courageous, and a strong statement." - Exclaim!

Friday
Oct172014

KAREN O - Crush Songs

Listening in on these tough and tender acoustic solo demos, recorded from 2006 to 2007, makes for one of 2014's most unexpectedly intimate archival exhumations.

"When I first read about Crush Songs, I mistakenly believed it to be a concept album about love. I don’t think I was far off. As in real-life romance, there are moments of suffering, hopelessness and frustration in Crush Songs, but there are also glimmers of hope—the idea that love may indeed exist, despite all evidence to the contrary...We all like to believe we are completely self-sufficient but at the end of it all, we’re all searching for a human connection, something to make it all feel a bit more worthwhile. Albums like Crush Songs, that manage to evoke these sentiments in a way that isn’t sickly, cringe-worthy or trite, are always my favourite kind." - The Talkhouse

Friday
Oct102014

VA - Spiritual Jazz 5: The World

Yet more beguilingly rhythmic, mainly-modal workouts from the Jazzman vaults, this time expanding out to include cuts from around the world. As per usual with this cratedigger-centric series, nearly all the artists compiled are brand-new names to us, resulting in one of the best (and, given how rare these original records are, cheapest!) ways to expand one's awareness of the global jazz scene(s) of the '60s and '70s.

"Until it was swept aside by the pop explosion of the 1960s, jazz was the most popular modern sound on earth. From the New World and the Caribbean to Africa, across the Soviet Bloc and the British Empire to the Far East, jazz music was embraced, adopted, played and enjoyed.

Having examined spiritual jazz as it was expressed in the US, and followed its messengers and influences in Europe, this fifth installment of our Spiritual Jazz series presents jazz from the rest of the world: a collection of jazz messages hailing from the four corners of the world that are united in their diverse treatment of the jazz idiom." - Jazzman Records

Friday
Oct102014

NGOZI FAMILY - Day Of Judgement

The utterly unique combination of metallic/proto-punky fuzzed-out guitar, crudely funky drumming, and charmingly awkward English singing that was '70s Zam-rock has electrified these ears for some time now, in no small part due to the efforts of Now-Again, who have now released what might be the most fun and exciting record of that prime era of Zambian bands that we've yet had the chance to be hipped to!

"Day of Judgement was released in 1976, the same year as other now-famous Zamrock albums, from WITCH's Lazy Bones!! to Rikki Ililonga’s Zambia to Musi-O-Tunya’s Give Love To Your Children, all reissued on Now-Again, but Day Of Judgement sounds like none of its counterparts. Part of that stems from its frenzied primitivism, the Ngozi Family's attempt to overcome a lack of musical acumen with sheer force of will, [...] a full-on aural assault that sounds as wild nearly forty years after its release as it must have sounded in the developing Zamrock landscape from which it emerged. We listen to this anachronistic yet prescient album now as a wholly original, completely unpredictable album in line with those from mavericks from across the world – from the Ramones to the Sex Pistols to Death. Though it’s been over two decades since Paul Ngozi’s passing, his voice and vision still seem exciting, powerful, unique, unvarnished, new." - Now-Again

Saturday
Sep132014

VA - Cracking The Cosimo Code

Cosimo Matassa, who passed away very recently, was an essential figure in the development of R&B, rock'n'roll and soul in New Orleans. Cracking The Cosimo Code provides a great taste of just some of the incredible talent who recorded in Matassa's studio in the Sixties. 

"What is the Cosimo Code? Quite simply, it's an ongoing, website-based discographical tool at www.cosimocode.com documenting the 1960s recordings from Cosimo Matassa’s studios in New Orleans. This CD release has been compiled by website co-founders Red 'Soul Detective' Kelly, John 'Sir Shambling' Ridley and John Broven. It brings to life the Cosimo Code data, unveiling many of the mysteries surrounding New Orleans R&B and soul recordings from the post-Fats Domino era.

As the '60s started, Domino and his producer Dave Bartholomew, with their timeless brand of R&B, still dominated the New Orleans recording scene. Soon there would be a changing of the guard, led by producers Allen Toussaint, Harold Battiste, Wardell Quezergue and Eddie Bo. Under these younger men, the music would take on a funkier soul edge while still imbued with the eternal New Orleans street rhythms." - Ace Records

Friday
Sep122014

VA - DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot

DJ Snowboy runs a club night called The Good Foot in London's Soho district. This compilation gives listeners an excellent and accurate picture of the exciting '60s R&B, soul, funk and Latin grooves Snowboy spins for the club's lucky patrons.

"Madame Jojo's, in an outpost of old Soho where Snowboy wears his DJ hat, is where he runs his weekly club night, the Good Foot. In the past, this central London area was known for its bohemian nightlife and shady characters. Most of that has gone now, replaced by modern life's big brands and identikit shops, but step down the velvet-lined stairwell into Jojo's subterranean space and you're into a lost world where the music played by Snowboy and his guests keeps an audience of enthusiastic dancers glued to the club's sunken dancefloor.

The Good Foot plays the best of '60s soul, R&B and latin with a touch of funk, and Snowboy always looks to find a perfect blend of classics and records that you are unlikely to have heard in a club before. Our compilation attempts to recreate the feeling of a night at the club, and features many of the tunes that have become signature plays there." - Ace Records

Thursday
Sep112014

VA - Brent: Superb 60s Soul Sounds

The Brent record label released soul from across the States, and some of the best it had to offer is found on this new Ace/Kent collection.

"Bob Shad ran several record labels between the late '50s and the mid-'70s, Brent being the one he chose to issue the majority of his '60s soul output. He made good contacts around the USA while working for Mercury and used them when he launched his labels...Shad released music from any area that was happening, and was one of the first to venture into Detroit soul, before it had really exploded." - Ace Records

Friday
Sep052014

JENNIFER CASTLE - Pink City

Grand yet concise, Pink City fittingly sees longtime shop fave Jennifer Castle corralling together many of T.O.'s finest players (including Soundscapes alumnus Mike Smith on bass throughout, as well as providing string arrangements for the record's last two tracks) while leaving plenty of room for her voice and lyrics to take center stage.

"Pink City is a record of folksy and orchestrated rubies, engaging the listener with each successive pass and holding up to the scrutiny of a jeweler’s magnifying glass. With a voice that is soft and lush, Castle’s songs reach for the heavens and offer a very mature honesty." - PopMatters

"We're lucky Jennifer Castle is a Torontonian—we get to add more of her tunes to our city's canon. Despite lyrics about movement, travel and separation, Castle's voice is more grounded than ever on her third studio album. Critics are right to note that she conjures Joni Mitchell in her vocal agility on songs like 'Sailing Away,' but they do her a disservice by dwelling on the comparison or focusing on her ethereal, reverb-drenched pipes. It's hard to say what's better here: the heady rush of hooky flute (care of Ryan Driver) swirling with pedal steel on feisty country rocker Sparta, or the album’s many intimate piano- and guitar-driven songs." - NOW

Thursday
Sep042014

LES AMBASSADEURS DU MOTEL DE BAMAKO - S/T (2CD)

Salif Keita's mid-'70s move from The Rail Band to Les Ambassadeurs is described in Florent Mazzoleni's liner notes as having been spurred on by a desire "to sing new songs, songs that described life in contemporary Mali in the second decade of the country's independence." Along with Teranga Beat's recent live archival set Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star de Dakar Live à L'Étoile, Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel... is yet another irresistible snapshot of Latin jazz-tinged West African music at its height.

"A specially mastered double album compilation of the original 1975 - 1977 recordings by one West Africa's greatest bands, the one which first set Salif Keita on his road to worldwide success. Including tracks never released digitally or on CD before, also containing the first ever release of two recordings from the vaults of Radio Mali." - Sterns Music

"Released to coincide with their historic reunion shows, this is an exquisite double-album reminder of the early days of one of Africa's greatest bands. Les Ambassadeurs were assembled in the early 1970s by a senior member of the Mali's military junta to entertain VIPs at a Bamako motel, and included great musicians from across west Africa, including the late Kanté Manfila on guitar, keyboard player Idrissa Soumaoro and guitarist Amadou Bagayoko (now a star with Amadou and Mariam)." - The Guardian

Monday
Aug252014

TAYLOR McFERRIN - Early Riser

While we collectively wait for Flying Lotus' You're Dead! to be fully unveiled, take a listen to this underappreciated recent Brainfeeder release, as McFerrin's programmed-but-played, wonky-yet-sleek, collaborations-friendly approach is a perfect fit for the label while still managing to put his own distinct personality into the proceedings.

"A new breed of jazz-influenced musicians are seeing fit to explore the music's once seemingly endless possibilities, developing a new vocabulary that incorporates myriad contemporary styles and ideas alongside the traditional notions of what jazz could or should be. Making a clear point to distance himself from the a cappella work for which his father is most famous, the younger McFerrin shrouds his compositions on Early Riser in a wide range of contemporary and throwback sonic textures that simultaneously look to the past for inspiration and the future for direction. Largely eschewing vocals, McFerrin lets his instrumental chops do the talking, crafting lush soundscapes via his various keyboards within which he then incorporates a number of hip hop-indebted touches. Skittering beats, odd synth textures and hushed, bedroom vocals all compete for supremacy, entering and exiting the mix in a gauzily lysergic manner that lends the music an organic, undulating feel." - PopMatters

Wednesday
Aug202014

DAVID KILGOUR & THE HEAVY EIGHTS - End Times Undone

David Kilgour's unique jangly guitar sound and stream-of-consciousness lyrics speak to me like no other musician ever has. Kilgour is from New Zealand so he rarely plays Toronto, but my devotion to his music is such that I recently flew across the continent just to see him play shows in Portland and San Francisco. Pitchfork's review assigned End Times Undone a numeric score of 6.9, but in my books it's a 10.0.

"The beautiful new record from David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights, opens with the sound of guitars drifting down slowly, like rain on a windowpane. It almost sounds mournful, grey streaks of sound pooling together. Then, after about 50 seconds, it stops short and redirects entirely. A big, clanging guitar figure enters, the clouds break, and the song lightens and expands. The effect is arresting, as if the musicians were suddenly and simultaneously struck by a different idea and decided, all at once, to enthusiastically pursue it. As Kilgour explains it, that secenario is perhaps not too far from the truth. 'The more you think about music, and the more you work on it, the more it stinks,' he says. 'We were trying to just let the songs be in their organic state, and to catch them while they were as fresh and lively as possible.' To do this, Kilgour convened the group only once every four months or so. Rather than approach each session with a set of pre-written songs, they simply got in a room and waited for the muse to arrive." - Wondering Sound 


Tuesday
Aug192014

SMOKE DAWSON - Fiddle

Recorded as a lone private-press release in 1971, Fiddle's a slight misnomer in that there's a minute-long solo bagpipe piece thrown in amidst the unaccompanied traditional jigs, barndances, and instrumental folk ballads, resulting in a one-of-a-kind, one-off branch between the old and the not-so-old weird America.

"Fiddle offers a fitting document of all Dawson's qualities: precision, humor, and wildness are all on display here. The longest track on the album, the three-part 'Connaughtman's Rambles/Devil's Dream/March Venerie,' gives Dawson an opportunity to show his chops and even, during the third section, to pick up the bagpipes. 'Drowsy Maggie' and 'Turkey In The Straw' also spotlight what could be termed Dawson's wildness, or, better, his loose precision: he misses not a note but is often content to let them slide together, intoning heart and informality, evoking an impulsive dance. 'Wild Goose Chase' and 'Cackling Hen' capture the frenetic nature of their subjects and are as like to evoke a chuckle as a tapping foot." - PopMatters

Monday
Aug182014

MONOMYTH - Saturnalia Regalia

Halifax’s cheeky woozesters Monomyth have been on our radar for a little while, thanks to some sweet cassette EPs and nationwide touring jaunts. They’ve released their first full-length Saturnalia Regalia as new signings to Mint Records (following the lead taken by fellow cool dudes Jay Arner and Tough Age), and have just announced a late summer tour through North America. All gangly riffs and reedy-voiced harmonies, get hip to Saturnalia's new Mint sound!

"Bred outside of Halifax and enduring their formative years well after that city was dubbed the 'Next Seattle,' some of the men in Monomyth might cut off their arms for My Bloody Valentine before being tagged Sloan fans. Thing is, Sloan once loved MBV so much, they aped their whole multilayered wash for a couple of years before the giant waves of sound pitched them dizzily onto video sets meant to resemble The Ed Sullivan Show. Seasoned ears will nonetheless hear shades of Sloan's Peppermint EP or the Super Friendz's Sticktoitiveness tape on this catchy record, but younger people will notice references to G-Unit's Tony Yayo on a song celebrating the swagger of Tupac Shakur ('Pac Ambition'). Killer songs about uncertain longing ('I want something else!,' one coda insists), four-track-era production values, swirly, cinnamon-y tones—it's all alluring, like a Beach Boys/Women mixtape." - Exclaim!

Monday
Aug112014

NAOMI PUNK - Television Man

While this second effort doesn't stray much from their already-impressive 2012 debut The Feeling, we're not complaining at all, happy to be bludgeoned again by another batch of slightly lopsided, aggressively indifferent Washington State sludge-pop.

"Television Man, the Pacific Northwest act’s follow-up to 2012's The Feeling, is musically disjointed, skittish and askew. The effect isn’t to dazzle with technicality or to confound with deliberate idiosyncrasies, but to take listeners on a circuitous ride to the song’s exalted musical peaks. It’s a ceaselessly forceful record, full of low-end blows that are felt more intensely due to the fact that the arrival schedule is so fickle. It’s also occasionally beautiful, namely when sustained vocal lines cascade across the syncopated bludgeoning of every crescendo." - Wondering Sound

"Most of Television's songs—and most of the songs on 2012's The Feeling, for that matter—are slow and grunge-like, anchored by vaguely radioactive-sounding guitars and vocals mumbled to the point of unintelligibility. They are heavy and romantic but sour end-to-end, the ballads of a teenage swamp thing preening in the dark. They're also unexpectedly pretty, filled with twists of melody and structure far more sophisticated than they need to be to fly in the realms of punk and underground rock." - Pitchfork

Monday
Jul282014

ALVVAYS - S/T

When our former co-worker Mike came back from Sappyfest last year, he was quick to mention jangle-poppy P.E.I.-to-Toronto transplants Alvvays as a festival highlight. Our anticipation for their album has been building since then, and it's not just us: the strength of two catchy-as-heck singles ("Archie, Marry Me" and "Adult Diversion") created some real excitement to hear the full-length, and it doesn't disappoint. It's your funny-sad-smart summer record; a blast to blast on a sunny day, but with enough ennui to last through winter.

"The lyrics throughout Alvvays are direct; they're mostly sung to people rather than about them, lending immediate access to every story. They're also awkward—which is to say they're about awkwardness in a way that songs, particularly beach songs, rarely are. Millennial social anxiety, it turns out, is a wildcard genius pairing with breezy, effortlessly cool surf-rock, and the combination is irresistible. 'Adult Diversion,' for example, obsesses over whether a social interaction 'is a good time/or is it highly inappropriate.' No time for lying around in the sun after catching waves today, man — there are too many future conversations to hash out in great detail ('Archie, Marry Me'). Over-analyzing, easygoing; reverb-infused, direct; nonchalant, plaintive: These aren't unprecedented musical pairings, but Alvvays wields them particularly well, tapping into a widely mined and instantly recognizable genre to create their juxtapositions." - NPR